Labour puts 'fairness' top of agenda: Shadow Chancellor hints at party's strategy to woo electorate. Colin Brown reports

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The Independent Online
LABOUR will intervene to curb high bank charges as part of a 'fairness' agenda under a government led by Tony Blair.

Gordon Brown, the Shadow Chancellor, said yesterday that Labour's election campaign strategy will be based on its appeal for 'fairness' over taxation, the welfare state, employment, and issues such as bank charges, which Labour leaders believe will chime with the public mood after 18 years of Tory rule.

'Fairness will be the theme, indeed the agenda, of a Tony Blair administration. What people want in this country is a restoration of a sense of fair play and fair dealing. It's something that has gone missing,' Mr Brown said.

His remarks on the BBC's Breakfast with Frost programme yesterday may have upstaged a special meeting of the Shadow Cabinet in London in September called by Mr Blair to agree a strategy for the build-up to the next general election, which is already under way.

Tory strategists have drawn up plans for attacking Mr Blair's Labour leadership. They intend to concentrate some fire on his deputy, John Prescott, as the true face of Labour, in an attempt to undermine Mr Blair's modernisation of his party's appeal.

That threat was brushed aside by a Shadow Cabinet minister with a sideswipe at Mr Prescott. 'The idea that John Prescott is pulling the strings is grotesque,' he said.

Mr Blair's senior colleagues believe basing Labour's election strategy on 'fairness' will help to destroy any attempt by the Tories to repeat the success of their 'Labour tax bombshell' campaign, which proved deadly at the last election.

Labour plans to tap growing resentment among families and small businesses with the promise of action, to be disclosed this week, against bank charges. Mr Brown said they had risen by 50 per cent, while the banks were making record profits.

A Labour government would legislate to require banks to give prior notice before imposing charges, and force the banking ombudsman to keep a check on charges. The banks would be required to publish comparative information on their charges for customers, but Labour would stop short of direct government interference in charge-setting.

Mr Blair hinted at Labour's strategy in his leadership acceptance speech on 21 July when he said a new language was needed of 'social justice, of what is just and unjust, fair and unfair, right and wrong'.

Mr Brown said: 'People want to see social cohesion. That is why Tony Blair's theme about rebuilding Britain as a community has struck such a chord right across British society.'

The Shadow Chancellor refused to be drawn on how far 'fairness' would require redistribution of wealth and avoided committing Labour to outdoing the Conservatives by cutting income tax to 15p in the pound. 'The issue at the next election will be between fair taxation under Labour and unfair taxation under the Conservatives,' he said.

The Labour Party intends to relaunch its campaign against the second stage of the increase in VAT on domestic fuel to 17.5 per cent in the run-up to the party conference season.

As part of its anti-sleaze campaign, Mr Brown said Labour would not be looking for large corporate donors who had deserted the Conservatives, such as Marks and Spencer.

'The trend in British politics is that donations must come from individuals who want to see a change of government . . . I don't think Marks and Spencer is going to give money to the Labour Party,' Mr Brown added.